Omega-3 fatty acid supplements do not lower pre-term births

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

In the largest trial ever conducted into omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and pre-term births, researchers found that there was no significant drop in premature deliveries for women taking the supplement compared to a control group given vegetable oil. The study involved more than 5,500 Australian pregnant women from 12 to 34 weeks of pregnancy regardless of whether they had low levels of the fatty acids to begin with. However, the researchers believe that supplementation may still be helpful for women who don't eat fish or who have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood.

Journal/conference: New England Journal of Medicine

DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1816832

Organisation/s: South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), The University of Adelaide, The University of Notre Dame Australia, Flinders Medical Centre

Funder: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Thyne Reid Foundation

Media Release

From: South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)

Seeking supplementation sweet spot for preterm prevention

Researchers from SAHMRI Women and Kids are investigating how to best use omega-3 (fish oil) to prevent preterm birth after assessing results from the largest study ever conducted in the field. The ORIP Trial involved more than 5500 pregnant Australian women who were randomly divided into two groups. From around 12 to 34 weeks’ gestation half of the women were given a
daily dose of omega-3 while the other half were given vegetable oil.

Lead researcher Dr Karen Best says the study represented a universal approach to supplementation. “We included a cross-section of women in the trial regardless of factors such as preterm birth risk, their baseline omega-3 levels or whether they were carrying one baby or more than one baby,” Dr Best says.

No significant difference was recorded between the groups in terms of early preterm birth (less than 34 weeks) nor number of adverse pregnancy or neonatal outcomes. “Our previous projects, including the DOMInO trial and Cochrane Review, suggested that
omega-3 fats could prevent preterm birth,” Dr Best says. “However, these latest results from ORIP indicate the benefits for preventing preterm birth might be best achieved through a targeted supplementation strategy rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’
policy.”

The ORIP data suggest omega-3 supplementation could be most useful for women with a single pregnancy and with low levels of omega-3 in their blood. Women who regularly eat fish or take a multivitamin supplement containing fish oil might not benefit from additional omega-3 supplements.

“Combining our insights from ORIP with previous studies, we will continue working to identify
who will benefit from omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy and the best way to deliver
that intervention,” Dr Best says.

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